Egyptian man sentenced for sexual offenses in case that sparked nationwide movement

Allegations against Ahmed Bassam Zaki were first brought to light by the whistleblower account ‘Assault Police’ on Instagram and Twitter, and included heinous crimes like child molestation, sexual assault and rape

December 31, 2020 by Peoples Dispatch
A view of the high court in Cairo. Photo: Reuters

Ahmed Bassam Zaki, former student of the American University of Cairo, was convicted of sexual offenses against women and minor girls and sentenced to three years in prison by the Cairo Economic Court, as per a Mada Masr report on Wednesday, December 30. The 22-year-old was found guilty of  “sexually harassing two girls over the phone”, “sending explicit sexual photos to one of them” and “repeatedly trying to contact one of them without her consent.” Zaki’s case had sparked off a massive nationwide movement against sexual harassment and crimes against women in Egypt, on the lines of the international #MeToo movement.

Criminal cases against Zaki are also underway. He faces several charges including sexual assault, attempted rape and blackmail. As many as six women and minor girls have lodged complaints of blackmail against him, with at least three minors accusing him of sexual abuse and extortion. If convicted, he is likely to get a prison term of 3-15 years. In total, over 50 women and underage girls have publicly alleged that they were victimized and sexually abused by Zaki in their testimonies since last July. The allegations were first brought to light by the whistleblower account ‘Assault Police’ on Instagram and Twitter. They included heinous crimes like child molestation, rape, statutory rape, sexual violence, physical assault, blackmail, extortion and sexual harassment.

Following the revelations, Zaki was arrested on July 6 and he subsequently confessed to assaulting and blackmailing six complainants, including a minor. The next hearing in the criminal trial against Zaki is scheduled for January 9, 2021. According to Ahmed Ragheb, the lawyer of one of the plaintiffs, Zaki’s lawyers have already appealed the economic court’s verdict and a hearing on his appeal will take place on January 11. In a Facebook post, Ragheb reacted to the court’s verdict by saying, “thanks to all the women who believed in us when we told them that we will go to the court and get your rights. We still have another round against the defendant before the criminal court.” He noted that the three-year prison sentence awarded to Zaki is the harshest possible for harassment charges in a misdemeanor trial.

The public testimonies against Zaki gave rise to a national movement on crimes against women, particularly sexual crimes such as rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment. This was a major shift from the past when women were discouraged to speak out and report such crimes out of fear of being publicly shamed or ruining their family’s honor. Women also would not report such crimes fearing that they will not be believed or will be held responsible for the crime.  

However, a large number of women came forward to report these crimes as the movement took shape. Within five days of the allegations against Zaki becoming public, Egypt’s National Council for Women received 400 complaints of physical and sexual violence against women. Several wealthy and powerful men were exposed for their crimes, the most prominent being the brutal gangrape and blackmail of a woman by nine men in a Cairo hotel in 2014. The case became a rallying cry for demanding justice and accountability for the victims of sexual assault. Zaki also belongs to a wealthy and well-connected family with ties to the ruling establishment. 

The Egyptian government was forced to take note of the movement and in one of the first breakthroughs, the Egyptian parliament in August approved amendments to the criminal code which effectively granted the right to remain anonymous to victims/survivors of sexual assault, rape, and other crimes. The government also proceeded to increase the prison term and fines for those convicted of sexual crimes such as rape and other crimes against women.